Mueller to push for cut in 'insane' passenger charges
Aer Lingus staff won't face further cuts until at least next year, but chief executive Christoph Mueller says he will push to secure a reduction in what he says are "insane" passenger charges at Dublin Airport.
Speaking after the airline's AGM at Dublin Airport yesterday, Mr Mueller said incoming tourism was urgently needed and slammed high airport charges approved by the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) in 2009.
"I believe that in the darkest hour of Ireland, where we urgently need incoming tourism, to increase airport taxes by 39pc is insane," he said. "T2 looks good, but it cannot develop itself into a job-killing machine and that needs to be taken into account."
Mr Mueller was referring to the fact permission was granted to the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) by the CAR to raise its per-passenger charge at the airport to a maximum of €10.44 this year from €7.39 in 2009.
The DAA wanted the fee increase in order to pay for its €1.2bn capital-expenditure programme, which included the construction of Terminal 2.
Aer Lingus has also been hit by higher passenger charges at Heathrow.
"We cannot talk about entrepreneurial behaviour; we cannot talk about a free market economy if major parts are still regulated," said Mr Mueller.
The DAA insisted yesterday that Dublin Airport's charges remained 25pc cheaper than its European peers.
Aer Lingus will pay about €35m more in airport charges this year than in 2010, money Mr Mueller said could have been made available to pay a dividend to shareholders.
It is understood the DAA could be poised to unveil a fresh route incentive scheme as part of the Government's jobs initiative to be announced next week.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has said the Government is prepared to cut airport charges if airlines boost routes and capacity.
Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington was also pressed at the AGM by Ryanair chief financial officer Howard Millar for the airline to return some of its cash pile to shareholders.
Mr Millar said Ryanair had taken High Court action within the past couple of weeks in an attempt to force Aer Lingus to include a resolution at the AGM that not less than €30m should be paid to shareholders in the form of a dividend.
The High Court ruled it was too late for the resolution to be included. Mr Millar sought an undertaking from Mr Barrington that the resolution would be included at next year's AGM. Ryanair owns nearly 30pc of Aer Lingus.
Mr Barrington also refused to say when an internal investigation into its controversial 2008 leave-and-return scheme would be complete, or if the findings would eventually be made known to shareholders.
The airline was forced to come to a €29.5m tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners this year over the scheme, which saw workers let go and then rehired on lesser terms.